This article appears in print in the March 2020 issue as part of the Spring Arts Preview feature. Click here to subscribe.
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Splashy season announcements are a thrill, but when it comes to major arts venues, big productions aren’t always the whole story. In addition to the front-page programming, many companies offer smaller-scale shows that are just as good as the mainstage fare. Not all these secondary programs are the same—some are specifically for works in progress, in need of developmental stage time and live audience feedback; some are mainstage features translated to suit a more casual environment; some are specifically family-friendly, to give folks a chance to indulge in art with their kids. Whatever the set-up, these shows and concerts offer excellent opportunities to experience live performance in a new way. Here are our picks for the major and minor offerings by some of Seattle’s most prominent arts organizations this spring.
This beloved Puccini opera is at once wildly romantic and a paean to artists everywhere: In a wide shot, it’s the story of bohemian artist friends living and loving in post-WWI Paris. (This Washington National Opera production updates La bohème from the 1840s.) Zoom in and it’s the tragic love story of Rodolfo and Mimi, who knocks on the door of Rodolfo’s freezing French garret in search of a light for her candle. Puccini’s sweeping melodies will play your emotions like the proverbial fiddle, from joyful start to tearful end. 5/2–5/19, McCaw Hall, seattleopera.org
Earth to Kenzie
This new one-act opera is staged in the new community-focused Opera Center, just down Mercer Street from McCaw Hall. Our heroine is Kenzie, an imaginative fifth-grader who yearns to disappear into her favorite video game after landing in a family shelter with her mother. Kenzie is aimed at families with kids in elementary school, but keep an eye on the opera’s future chamber productions and you’ll likely find a lot of variety; recent seasons included The Falling and the Rising, created from interviews with deployed soldiers, and the transgender story As One. 6/6 and 6/13, Tagney Jones Hall at Seattle Opera Center, seattleopera.org
Hansel & Gretl & Heidi & Günter
This musical may be brand-new, but its main character is anything but. Our star is Gretl, that famous gingerbread-house-eating, witch-killing Grimm’s fairy-tale heroine, but now she’s a modern single mom living in Chicago and grappling with her traumatic childhood. Her kids wish they could live normal lives instead of dealing with their mother’s bizarre and overbearing rules, but when Uncle Hansel appears, they end up on another adventure entirely. 3/12–4/19, Village Theatre Issaquah. 4/24–5/17, Village Theatre Everett, villagetheatre.org
Village Theatre’s Beta Productions series is a musical theater lover’s dream and a testing ground for works in progress that may appear in mainstage seasons to come. In this season’s final Beta Productions show, The Homefront, one woman fights for female factory workers’ jobs after the end of World War II. Expect history, feminist revolution and a rock-inspired score; erstwhile (and much missed) Seattle director Malika Oyetimein is slated to direct. 6/12–6/21, First Stage Theatre, Issaquah, villagetheatre.org
Tracy Michelle Hughes and Anne Allgood star in Lynn Nottage's Sweat at ACT. Photo by Rosemary Dai Ross.
ACT – A Contemporary Theatre
Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize–winning play Sweat is set in Reading, Pennsylvania, but it could easily take place in any American town where factory shutdowns have pummeled working-class people’s lives. In a dive bar where steel-tubing factory workers gather, longtime friendships fray as jobs become increasingly tenuous. Top-flight local actors Tracy Michelle Hughes and Anne Allgood lead this cast; ACT artistic director John Langs directs. 3/20–4/12, The Allen Theatre at ACT, acttheatre.org
Working (Undecided Title)
Every season, ACT partners with local artists and companies for ACTLab, a collaborative, outsourced second-stage program offering a wide variety of innovative work. This season, dancer/choreographer Markeith Wiley brings “a lyric poem that takes place inside a dance party” to ACT’s Bullitt Cabaret space. Working (Undecided Title) is a response to his 2016 piece It’s Not Too Late; expect his ever-evolving fusion of movement, humor, unapologetic directness and thoughtful abstraction. 6/4–6/21, The Bullitt Cabaret at ACT, acttheatre.org
Markeith Wiley's Working (Undecided Title) closes out the season at ACTLab. Photo by Brett Love.
This three-week Beethoven Festival promises to be a crown jewel in Seattle Symphony Orchestra’s cornerstone Masterworks Series. In honor of Beethoven’s 250th birthday, the SSO performs all nine of the composer’s symphonies, along with music “created, inspired or performed by” members of the local community. Of particular interest: composer/drummer (and 2017 MacArthur “Genius grant” recipient) Tyshawn Sorey’s new piece for cello and orchestra, on the bill with Beethoven’s Second and Seventh Symphonies; and the world premiere of Potlatch Symphony 2020, curated by local composer Janice Giteck, alongside Beethoven’s Symphonies No. 6 and No. 8. 6/11–6/28, Taper Auditorium, Benaroya Hall, seattlesymphony.org
For those who find the formality of a concert hall uncomfortable, check out Seattle Symphony’s “[untitled]” series: short, late-night programs of new and contemporary music performed in the casual, intimate luxury of the Benaroya Hall lobby. In this final “[untitled]” show of the season, newly installed music director Thomas Dausgaard conducts Bent Sørensen’s “Pantomime” and “Mignon,” from his Papillons trilogy. Pianist Cristina Valdés takes center stage here; in Papillons, all three pieces of the trilogy share the same piano part, but the surrounding music and instrumentation differs. 5/1, Samuel & Althea Stroum Grand Lobby, Benaroya Hall, seattlesymphony.org